Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi agrees to form new Italian government

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Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi has agreed to form a non-political government to steer Italy through the coronavirus pandemic.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella met with Mr Draghi in Rome after last-ditch negotiations among political parties failed to produce a viable governing coalition.

Mr Draghi was given the mandate to try to replace caretaker premier Giuseppe Conte's coalition and must now put forward an administration which attracts support.

Mr Conte was forced to resign last month after ex-prime minister Matteo Renzi pulled ministers of his small, centrist Italy Alive party from the government.

Mr Draghi, 73, was president of the European Central Bank between 2011 and 2019 and is credited with having saved the euro during Europe's debt crisis, earning him the nickname "Super Mario".

He said he knows Italy faces the multiple challenges of a health care crisis, a national vaccination campaign and an economic recession.

In an appeal for unity from Italy's squabbling political forces, he said: "It's a difficult moment. We have the chance to do a lot for our country."

The collapse of Mr Conte's government came amid complaints over plans to spend more than 200 billion euros (£176bn) in EU pandemic recovery funds and loans.

Italy, with more than 89,000 confirmed deaths, has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe after Britain.